There is a new vogue on the professional golf tour, and if its impact on the game does not exactly rival in importance the invention of the sand wedge, it is still significant. This year's In act is the Exhaustion Syndrome, or Too Pooped to Putt, and it is having a bewildering effect on a sport that never before had been thought to equal, say, pro football in terms of physical demands.
In the last two months there has hardly been a big-name pro strong enough to lift a club head. Bruce Devlin was still holding his $35,000 check for winning the Carling World Open in England when he said, "I'm really tired from the circuit. I'm going to take a nice long rest."
The week before that, Don January won the $21,000 first prize at the Philadelphia Golf Classic, the biggest purse of his life and his first victory since 1963. How did he feel? the press asked. "I'm tired, very tired," said January. "I'm going home to rest."
And then there were Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus, the two leading money-winners on the tour this year. They were sitting at a table during the World Series of Golf (where winner Gene Littler earned $50,000) discussing the strains of competition.
September 25, 1966
Nicklaus: "Once a fellow plays three tournaments in a row he wants to..."
Casper: "Go fishing."
Nicklaus: "That's right."
And this week Casper and Nicklaus are doing just that, with Billy fishing in the Pacific Northwest and Nicklaus trying his angling luck in Florida.
This how-tired-I-am trend started with Arnold Palmer a year or more ago, and Palmer had good reason. A man with several million dollars in business enterprises depending on him, he led a frantic life that hampered his golf. When asked what the trouble was with his game, he repeatedly said he was too tired to concentrate, and he still says so.
"All I need is some rest," Palmer stormed after a vexing final-round 77 at Hartford just last month, one that spurred him to a four-week vacation.
But Palmer's problem has turned out to be contagious. No matter how much money they put up, tournament sponsors no longer can be assured that even one of the two or three golfers who really draw crowds will enter their event. (The Carling, which offers $205,000 in purse money, is golf's richest tournament, yet it could lure only four of the top 10 U.S. money-winners. For the rest, the trip to England wasn't worth the trouble.) In turn, the golfers themselves are getting waspish. The other day Doug Sanders, who has played in 27 tournaments this year, said that Jack Nicklaus, who has played in 16, "has more talent and less desire than anyone I know."
Many pros now maintain that it is impossible to be at their competitive best if they play more than three or four weeks in a row. Nicklaus began the year by saying three tournaments in a row was his maximum. He has stuck to that, even though it has been suggested that his frequent vacations account for the fact that he only occasionally plays up to his full potential. Nicklaus contends that he won the Masters, won the British Open, is the second leading money-winner and what more do you want?
Al Geiberger, who won the PGA, has played in 24 of the 33 tournaments, but also tries to sit out a week after playing three. "I have to go off for a while and forget about hitting a ball," he says. "When I get tired, I start to change my swing. Then I'm in real trouble."
The chart below shows the patterns of competition and vacation that the top money-winners have followed. It also suggests that perseverance is rewarding, as in the case of Frank Beard, who is getting rich by being consistent instead of spectacular. (The tour, in fact, is now so lucrative that the 25th money-winner has earned more than $32,000). Conspicuous by his absence on the chart is Gary Player, who has entered only 11 events and has all but retired from the U.S. tour. On the other hand, Palmer has played a surprising number of times.
Tournament sponsors, who put up most of the PGA's $4 million in prize money, are becoming increasingly upset by the absenteeism of the name pros and are looking for a solution. As of now, the pros are not under contract to the PGA to appear at any tournament, yet the PGA contracts with the sponsors to "make its best effort to provide a strong field." As Jack Tuthill, who now runs the tour for the PGA, explains it, "Best effort means that I adopt a prayerful attitude and plead with players to enter." "The situation at our tournament this year was absurd," says Captain Porter Bedell, who runs the Pensacola Open. "We never did find out until the last minute just who was going to play, which is like trying to run a football team without a quarterback. The golfers don't seem to realize that they owe something to the public, the people who pay the bills." Every time tournament sponsors discuss this problem with the PGA, they are told, in Tuthill's words: "Each player is an individual, and you can't tell individuals what to do."
"You can't?" says a midwestern sponsor. "The Colts tell Unitas what to do."
There is no doubt that the present schedule is too long—there are 43 events on the approved PGA program this year—but it is equally true that some kind of guaranteed appearance system will have to be established, especially in view of the Exhaustion Syndrome.
Meanwhile the rest of this year's PGA schedule will not be totally devoid of interest, because those two golfing fishermen, Nicklaus and Casper, are now thinking about playing in events they would prefer to ignore. The reason is the money race. Nicklaus has been the leading money-winner for the last two years, and he says, "That is an honor I do not want to lose."
Casper, on the other hand, has never been the leading money-winner. He is, in addition, miffed about being left off the Canada Cup team. The Japanese, who are the hosts this year and have a say as to who will represent the U.S., picked Nicklaus and Palmer, ignoring Casper, the U.S. Open winner.
Casper was on a national television show not so long ago with Ken Venturi, and talk got around to golf's so-called Big Three (Palmer, Player and Nicklaus). "There no longer is a Big Three." said Venturi, pointing to Casper. "It's a Big One." Billy liked that. He thinks that beating Nicklaus in the money race would much enhance both his image and his esteem, and he is going to play about every chance he gets from now on.
In turn, it is unlikely that Nicklaus is going to let Casper win the money race by default. By the end of the year the two of them may be tired—really tired.
Red check indicates tournament winner.